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And That Makes One
by Derek Smart
Last night was Ted Lilly's Cub debut, and he made it all about him. After Big Z's shaky opener, it was thrilling to see a team that will only go as far as its starters will carry it get such an outstanding effort from one of their big, offseason acquisitions. Pitching Acquisition #2 goes this morning. Let's hope we get similar results today, but for now, let's fire some bullets.
It's not often you see a pitcher strike out nine men without blowing anybody away, but such was the case last night for both Lilly and Reds' starter Bronson Arroyo - Cincy's man doing it with an assortment of deceptive breaking balls, and the Cub hurler by simply throwing strikes, changing speed, changing location, and generally out-thinking his opposition. I love seeing the inherent beauty in a raw power pitcher plying his trade, but there is, perhaps, a deeper level of appreciation to be had when drinking in the work of a man who's just owning the joint with his brain.
The Cubs still have yet to throw the switch at the power station, although they did get their first extra-base hit of the season with Alfonso Soriano's seventh inning double. It's not a point of concern - this team is still going to earn it's keep with raw muscle - in fact, there's something to be said for being able to plate runs with singles on a night when the ball simply wasn't carrying, despite some strong winds blowing out to left-center. We've all seen these type of nights result in lots of flies and no tallies, so I'll take the outage in exchange for the scores.
If the first two games of the season are any indication (and they aren't, but bear with me here), we're going to see one Cub hitter every time out look completely lost at the dish. Opening Day it was Man-Crush-Matt, and last night it was The Savior. In fact, I'd say Lee looked about as lost as I've ever seen him against Arroyo's stuff. Right up to the point in the eighth when Derrek led off the frame with a ground-ball single, it looked like he'd never seen Arroyo in his life - like he'd never seen any Major League pitching, in fact. Even a team's best player can be made to look silly. Remember that next time you're sweating because Albert Pujols is lurking with the game on the line. It may not work out in the end, but it might lower your blood pressure in the moment.
Speaking of Arroyo, I must not have been paying much attention during his starts versus the Cubs last year (I think many of them were during day games that I failed to watch in the evening), because I was a little shocked at just how many breaking balls he threw. It was a kind of what I'd imagine a Michael Wuertz start to be like, perhaps not in the solid results, but certainly in the backwards approach. I'd even say it took the Cubs a bit by surprise, as it wasn't until the second, and in some cases the third time through the order, when the team starting to look like they were expecting something that wasn't a fastball.
Cliff Floyd hits the ball real hard. When he starts getting some loft on those puppies, he'll set off air raid sirens.
When folks talk about the Lou Piniella Era being, at the very least, an entertaining one, they're referring to a season full of incident's like last night's little chat with Ryan Dempster on the mound. With a 4-1 lead, Dempster was having a little trouble finding the plate, having issued a one-out walk and gotten behind Junior 1-0 on a ball that clearly got away from him.
Out trots Lou, and before he even hits the mound I can make out some phrases which my limited lip-reading skills parsed into "You've got a f*****g three run lead! Throw some f*****g stikes!" After spouting, perhaps, two more sets of similarly colored verbiage, back he goes to the dugout, piece said, leaving an obviously shell shocked Dempster to ponder his next move. His first toss was a ball, but the next was not, and two pitches later, there was nothing else to worry about.
I stuck around to watch the handshakes afterward, partly to bask in the season's first victory, but mostly to see what sort of interaction the manager and closer might have, which is when I saw what I think I liked the most. Lou reached out, grabbed Dempster's hand, threw his burly arm around his shoulder, and gave him a big, winning smile. There was no lip-reading this time, but I imagined something akin to "I'm proud of you, kid. I was hard on you, but you turned it around. That's what winners do."